Friday, March 14, 2014


On the bus, I start thinking about the ultimatum they gave me.The driver shifts after slowing down to avoid a huge pot hole. He uses a pole about four feet high, like something a boat swain would use to unmoor a raft. He cranks the pole around and the gears grind together. I can feel them grinding under my feet. For the second time this week, I’m coming back from San Lorenzo. San Lorenzo is one of those suburbs that makes going into the city unnecessary for anyone who doesn’t live there. In San Lorenzo, you can buy anything you could possibly want. The town resembles a soq of the Arab world, only much more impatient. Nothing is meticulously stacked. There is very little assemblage at all. Almost everything, from shoes to herbs to faucet fixtures, is spilled out like hot laundry on a table. An old woman stands by a table of pink and white cotton and taffeta. It looks like she’s running a confectionary and is sorting pink taffy and cotton candy and bubble gum. She’s got a cigarette in her mouth that’s burned all the way down to the filter. There’s a tiny corona of ashes at the tip. It looks like she’s been holding it that way for a long time. She’s got a hook out and she’s trying either to secure a little pink shirt at the top of her tent, or take it down. The bus passes before I can tell which.

The ultimatum they gave me was to decide if I want to stay here for another year. They told me I had until April 18th to make a decision. I’ve barely been here a month. April 18th is a month away.

The bus’s gears bite together again. The metal floor shutters. I notice that I’m seeing the same stands and advertisements I saw when I came into San Lorenzo a few hours ago. I idly wonder if we’re going in circles. I find it doesn’t really matter much. It’s nice to be sitting on this bus, looking out the window, after so many days spent sitting in my office wondering what to do with myself, staring at the reproduction of a mountain cottage painting. There’s snow on the roof of the cottage and the two-track that winds past is muddy with thaw. I look at that painting long enough and I can feel the weight of the mud on my boots and hear the crow of the roosters in the distance. The smell of burning dried manure hangs around the fringes of that fake painting.

The bus is moving quickly now, but a passenger appears from nowhere and hails the bus. The brakes lock in a way they wouldn’t do in the States anymore and everyone is thrown against the seat in front of them. No one says anything; everyone lowers themselves back into their seat and returns to their preoccupation at the window. We’re passing the woman with the cigarette again. It looks like she’s hung up a pink nightgown with a picture of Spongebob on the front.

We were driving through Oregon when I got the news that I had been accepted to work in Paraguay. We had stopped in Corvallis because I had been thinking about trying to find some adjunct work at the university there. We walked around a little. It was warm that day, warmer than it had been that summer in Costal California. There were fires to the south in places like Medford and you could smell the burnt pine in the air. We stopped into one of those cafés that something seems off about, but you can’t tell what it is. It’s always the carpet. Carpeted cafés are quieter and seem cultish, especially if the carpet is new, but it always takes a while to realize it when I walk into one.

After I had read the welcome e-mail from the US Embassy in Paraguay and we paid the bill and left the quiet cafe, Gina and I were driving past fields of mint. The sun was setting and the scent of the mint actually seemed to cool the air. We stopped to camp by a little lake, black with the boughs of an inverted forest. The water was cold.

After swimming out a ways, you could sink down until you felt the pressure building and see the peach color of light through your eyelids turn to grey then black. The water got very cold. The cold would climb up around your feet and ankles until it became a panicky feeling in your chest and you’d race back to the surface. That night, sitting by the fire with the feeling of well-being that comes with being warm and dry after swimming, ten months seemed like very little time.

The bus has been on an unfamiliar street for a while. I check each street sign, hoping to see something familiar. The buildings are all low warehouse-looking places with brand logos painted on their doors. I can’t tell if we are going farther out or coming back into the city. We’re driving toward a ferric raincloud. It’s gotten noticeably cooler. Instead of flip-flops and unwashed hair, the bus is beginning to smell like wet stone. “Another year,” I mutter.

The gears bite together again and there a smell like the singed tooth smell at the dentist’s office. As the bus drives faster, the engine roars louder. For the first year, the idea of going back to the States is appealing. It’s not until the second year that a place, no matter how foreign, begins to feel comfortable. The idea of home becomes mutable. Something keeps pulling me out here. I think I owe it to myself to really follow it this time, to stay long enough to find some new stories here. I’ve been telling the old ones for a little too long. But there are those wearisome afternoons when a cheap reproduction hanging in an office begs you, absolutely begs you to give it up and move to Bozeman or Moscow, ID and build a house, get a dog, cut a lawn, pay bills, drive a car, meet neighbors and plant a tree. It sounds like a sweet litany even now.

The bus finally reaches an area I know, down by the municipal market. I pull the cord and jump off. The streets are already becoming familiar to me, and as I make my way home it begins to rain these big silvery quarters of rain. The sun is shining just above a cloud. A single beam of light is focused right here, almost at my feet. The raindrops are so big and bright and the ground is so dry, the splash of each one is visible. I feel like I’m walking between them, watching the ground all around me dampen. It’s like walking through a room of grey curtains. I push them aside and for a moment there is stillness, like the stillness of being underwater. I can feel the cold around my ankles. I look up and see the trees like I am looking up at their reflections, but instead of being grey, the leaves are verdant with the rain and sun.

You've got to know what that's like by now.

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